Vail Daily column: What can we learn from Brexit? | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: What can we learn from Brexit?

Jason E. Glass
Valley Voices

In response to the recent vote in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is approaching a thousand point loss, as of the writing of this piece. For many regular Americans, myself included, watching the value of our investments and retirements savings plummet, based on a decision in another country, is difficult to understand.

In the case of Brexit, the slang term for Britain's exit from the European Union, while pundits are arguing what will be the real effect of the decision — Britain has the world's fifth-largest economy, the reality is that nothing has really changed — at least for now. The exit of Britain from the European Union is a political and technical process, which may take up to two years. The fundamental engine of production and the agreements governing the European economy are still in place and, at least for today, remain basically unchanged. So, why are the markets in meltdown status?

The effect of Brexit on the markets in the United States and other countries is disappointing, but not surprising. It reflects the human tendency to overreact in the short term to situations which require patience, perseverance and the long view.

Regular readers of this column may be perplexed to read the community's school superintendent opining on matters of international politics and markets. Critics might argue that I'm entirely unqualified to comment on these matters — and these critics would be largely correct.

While I'm no expert on international politics and world markets, I do have some expertise in a couple of other important areas. As an education expert, I know something about human behavior. And as an organizational leader, I know something about the process of good decision making.

Similar to the world markets, education is a field that has been whipsawed by decisions based on hyperventilating urgency rooted in fear. Education policy also has a tendency to fall victim to politically motivated decisions which seek to blame and punish some group of people for issues that are deeply rooted in systems and historical context.

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Make no mistake, there are indeed times when bold and decisive action is necessary. However, when it comes to large and complicated social systems, frequently the best course of action involves sticking to your guns and having the mental toughness required to take the long view on problems.

Jim Collins and Morten Hansen, in their 2011 book, "Great by Choice," a landmark study of business organizations which not only survived but thrived in environments of uncertainty and fierce competition, identified "fanatic discipline" as one of the key lessons learned from organizations which stood the test of time and dramatically outperformed their competitors.

This notion of fanatic discipline does not preclude change. The abilities to adapt to new conditions, pursue strategic and smart innovation and capitalize on opportunities are all necessary elements of organizational success. But people in organizations must be grounded enough to know the difference between a change that is consistent with the organization's direction and values, and one that is based on fear and the short term.

Being able to tell the difference requires a mix of self-awareness, discipline and wisdom. These are three concepts which seem to be in short supply, but that are certainly available to all of us.

Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at jason.glass@eagleschools.net.